Volume 40 Number 40

July 5 – July 11, 2006

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Anatomy of a scandal foretold


MEXICO CITY (July 7th) — Mexican elections are stolen before, during, and after Election Day. Just look at what happened in the days leading up to the tightest presidential election in the nation’s history this past July 2nd.

By law, the parties and their candidates close down their campaigns three days before Election Day. On Wednesday night June 28th, as the legal limit hove into sight, a team of crack investigators from the Attorney General’s organized crime unit descended on the maximum security lock-up at La Palma in Mexico state where former Mexico City Finance Secretary Guillermo Ponce awaits trial on charges of misuse of public funds “ much of which he appears to have left on Las Vegas crap tables.

During his nearly six years in office, outgoing president Vicente Fox has often used his attorney general’s office against leftist front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to counter his growing popularity, including a failed effort to bar the former Mexico City mayor from the ballot and even imprison him.

Now, in a desperate last-minute electoral ploy by Fox’s right-wing National Action or PAN party to boost the fortunes of its lagging candidate Felipe Calderon, the agents tried to pressure Ponce into testifying that AMLO and his PRD party had used city revenues to finance his presidential campaign but Ponce proved a stand-up guy and ultimately rebuffed the government men.

The imprisoned finance secretary’s refusal to talk greatly disappointed both Televisa and TV Azteca, Mexico’s two-headed television monopoly that has waged an unrelenting dirty war against Lopez Obrador for months and even years. Indeed, TV crews were stationed out in the La Palma parking lot to record Ponce’s thwarted confession for primetime news and both networks had reserved time blocks on their evening broadcasting, forcing the anchors to scramble to fill in the gap.

That was Wednesday night. On Thursday June 29th, Lopez Obrador’s people awoke to discover that the candidate’s electronic page had been hacked and a phony message purportedly signed by AMLO posted there calling upon his supporters to hit the streets “if the results do not favor us.” Although officials of Lopez Obrador’s party, the PRD, immediately proved the letter to be a hoax, the pro-Calderon media broadcast the story for hours as if it were the gospel truth, eventually forcing the PRD and its allies to reaffirm that AMLO would abide by results released by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the nation’s maximum electoral authority, even if the IFE’s numbers did not favor the candidate.

The PRD pledge was a reiteration of a “pact of civility” that Televisa had browbeat PRD president Lionel Cota into signing in early June. “Hackergate,” as the scandal quickly became known, was designed to prevent Lopez Obrador’s supporters from protesting the fraud that the electoral authorities were already preparing.

That was Thursday. On Friday, June 30th, after more than five years of false starts, Fox’s special prosecutor for political crimes placed former president Luis Echeverria under house arrest for his role in student massacres in 1968 and 1971. Not only was the long overdue arrest portrayed by big media as a feather in Fox’s — and therefore, Calderon’s – cap, but it also put the much-hated Echeverria, a pseudo-leftist with whom Calderon has often compared Lopez Obrador, back on the front pages. Since Echeverria is an emeritus member of the PRI, the bust killed two birds with one very opportunist stone.

That was Friday. On Saturday June 1st, two PRD poll watchers in conflictive Guerrero state were gunned down by unknowns, invoking the memory of hundreds of party supporters who were slaughtered in political violence after the 1988 presidential election was stolen from party founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, up until now Mexico’s most conspicuous electoral fraud.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, July 2nd, Felipe Calderon and the PAN, aided and abetted by the connivance of the Federal Electoral Institute, Mexico’s maximum electoral authority, stole the presidential election before the nation’s eyes.

As mentioned above, Mexican elections are stolen before, during, and after the votes are cast. During the run-up to July 2nd, the IFE, under the direction of Calderon partisan Luis Carlos Ugalde, systematically tried to cripple Lopez Obrador’s campaign. Venomous television spots that labeled AMLO “a danger” to Mexico were allowed to run, sometimes four to a single commercial break, for months on Televisa and TV Azteca despite an indignant outcry from Lopez Obrador’s supporters. The IFE only pulled the plug on the hit pieces under court order.
In a similar display of crystal clear bias, Ugalde and the IFE winked at Vicente Fox’s shameless, unprecedented, and unconstitutional campaigning for Calderon, and refused to intervene despite AMLO’s pleas for the president to remove himself from the election.

One of the IFE’s more notorious accomplishments in this year’s presidential elections was to engineer the non-vote of Mexicans in the United States, an effort that resulted in the disenfranchisement of millions of “paisanos” living north of the Rio Bravo. Undocumented workers were denied absentee ballot applications at consulates and embassies and more than a million eligible voters were barred from casting a ballot because their voter registration cards were not up to date and the IFE refused to update them outside of Mexico. Untold numbers of undocumented workers who could not risk returning to Mexico for a minimum 25 days to renew their credential were denied the franchise the IFE was sworn to defend. The PRD insists that the majority of undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. would have cast a ballot for Lopez Obrador.

The left-center party has considerable strength in Los Angeles and Chicago, the two most important concentrations of Mexicans in the U.S. When thousands of legal Mexican residents from Los Angeles caravanned to Tijuana to cast a ballot for Lopez Obrador, they found the special polling places for citizens in transit had no ballots. The 750 ballots allocated to the special “casillas” had already been taken by members of the Mexican police and military.

In Mexico City, when voters in transit lined up at one special polling place, according to noted writer Elena Poniatowska, hundreds of nuns presumably voting for the rightwing Calderon displaced them and were given the last of the ballots.

Back in the bad old days when the long-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) stole elections with impunity, most of the larceny took place in the polling stations –stolen or stuffed ballot boxes, multiple voting, altered vote counts — but since national and international observers like the San Francisco-based Global Exchange became a regular feature of the electoral landscape here, such overt fraud has diminished and the cumulative number of anomalies recorded in 130,000 casillas July 2nd seemed insignificant when compared to the size of the victory Calderon was already claiming the morning after — i.e. the John Kerry Syndrome, named in memory of the Democratic Party candidate’s sudden capitulation in Ohio in 2004 for much the same reason.

Nonetheless, this “fraude de hormiga” (fraud of the ants) which steals five to 10 votes a ballot box, when combined with the disappearance of voters from precinct lists (“razarados” or the razored ones) can fabricate an electoral majority: The long-ruling PRI (which failed to win a single state July 2nd) was a master of this sort of “alquemia” (alchemy) during seven decades of defrauding Mexican voters.

During the build-up to July 2nd, independent reporters here uncovered what appeared to be IFE preparations for cybernetic fraud. One columnist at the left national daily La Jornada discovered parallel lists of “razarados” on the IFE electronic page; one of the lists contained multiples of the other. While the columnist, Julio Hernandez, made a phone call to the IFE to question this phenomenon, the list containing the multiples vanished from his computer screen.

Similarly, radio reporter Carmen Aristegui was able to access the list of all registered voters through one of Felipe Calderon’s web pages, and the list had been crossed with one containing the personal data of all recipients of government social development program benefits. Former social development secretary (SEDESO) Josefina Vazquez Mota, is Calderon’s right hand woman and the PAN candidate’s brother-in-law Diego Zavala, a data processing tycoon, designed programs for both the IFE and the SEDESO. Utilizing voter registration rolls and lists of beneficiaries of government programs is considered an electoral crime here.

AMLO’s people went into July 2nd fearing a repeat of 1988 when the “system” purportedly “collapsed” on election night and did not come back up for ten days. When results were finally announced, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas has been despoiled of victory and the PRI’s Carlos Salinas was declared the winner.

Lopez Obrador’s fears were not unwarranted.

When on July 2nd AMLO’s voters turned out in record-breaking numbers, Interior Secretary officials urged major media not to release exit poll results that heralded a Lopez Obrador victory. Ugalde himself took to national television to declare the preliminary vote count too close to call, and Mexicans went to bed without knowing whom their next president might be.

Preliminary results culled from the casillas (PREP) that ran erratically all night and all day Monday showed Calderon with a 200,000 to 400,000-vote lead, activating suspicions that cybernetic flimflam was in the works. When the PREP was finally shut down Monday night, the right winger enjoyed a commanding lead and Televisa and TV Azteca proclaimed him a virtual winner. U.S newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune followed suit, and the White House was poised to celebrate a Calderon victory.

But there was one fly in the IFE’s ointment: 42 million Mexicans had voted July 2nd, but only the votes of 39 million appeared in the PREP and Lopez Obrador demanded to know what had happened to the missing 3,000,000 voters. Then on a Tuesday morning news interview with Televisa, Luis Carlos Ugalde admitted that the missing votes had been abstracted from the PREP because of “inconsistencies”. Indeed, 13,000 casillas — 10% of the total — had been removed from the preliminary count, apparently to create the illusion that Calderon had won the presidency.

Meanwhile all day Monday and into Tuesday, AMLO supporters throughout Mexico recorded thousands of instances of manipulation of the vote count. A ballot box in Mexico state registered 188 votes for Lopez Obrador but only 88 were recorded in the PREP. Another Mexico state ballot box was listed 20 times in the preliminary count. Whereas voters in states where the PAN rules the roost, cast more ballots for president than for senators and congressional representatives, voters in southern states where the PRD carried the day cast more ballots for congress than for the presidential candidates. Among the PRD states that purportedly followed this surreal pattern was Tabasco, the home state of two out of the three major party presidential candidates, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the PRI’s Roberto Madrazo.

On Wednesday morning, with the tension mounting to the breaking point and demonstrators already massing in the street, a final vote count began in Mexico’s 300 electoral districts. Although the tabulation of the votes was programmed to finish Sunday, IFE officials pushed the recount ahead at breakneck speed. As the day progressed, PAN and PRI electoral officials, charging Lopez Obrador’s people with trying to obstruct the process, repeatedly rejected PRD demands to open the ballot boxes and recount the votes inside one by one in instances where Lopez Obrador’s tally sheets did not coincide with numbers in the PREP or were different from the sheets attached to the ballot box. When a recount was allowed such as in one Veracruz district, Lopez Obrador sometimes recouped as many as a thousand votes.

Surprisingly, by early afternoon, AMLO had accumulated a 2.6% lead over Calderon — and his supporters were dancing in the streets of Mexico City. And then, inexplicably, for the next 24 hours, his numbers went into the tank, never to rise again — at the same time that the right-winger’s started to increase incrementally. By late evening, AMLO was reduced to single digit advantage and a little after 4 AM Thursday morning, Calderon inched ahead. It had taken 12 hours to count the last 10% of the votes and still there were districts that had not reported.

When Lopez Obrador addressed the press at 8:30, he condemned “the spectacle of the dance of numbers” and announced that the PRD and its political allies would impugn the election — he had proof of anomalies in 40,000 polling places (a third of the total) and would present them to the “TRIFE”, the supreme electoral tribunal with powers to annul whole districts and states, within the 72 hours dictated by the law.

Then, in his typically hesitating, Peter Falk-like way of saying things, AMLO called for the second election — the one that takes place in the street — beginning at 5 PM Saturday in the great Zocalo plaza at the political heart of this bruised nation.

Although Lopez Obrador’s words were perhaps the culminating moment of this long strange journey, Mexico’s two-headed TV monster chose to ignore them – Televisa was otherwise occupied with “entertainment” news, and soon after the screens filled up with game shows and telenovelas (soap operas.) Although it had not yet concluded, the telenovela of the vote count disappeared into the ether of morning television.

This chronicle of a fraud foretold is an excerpt from John Ross’s forthcoming “Making Another World Possible:Zapatista Chronicles 2000-2006” to be published this October by Nation Books.



JUlY 11

Darren Johnston Quintet
This Bay Area jazz trumpeter and composer is one of the 50 plus musicians commissioned by Intersection to “explore the music and history that has been most influential to jazz artists today.” If you have been keeping up with the series, you know he is in good company with Marcus Shelby, Scott Amendola, and Howard Wiley among others. Johnston’s compositional style is influenced by diverse artists such as Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, and Arnold Schoenberg. Johnston explores the limits of his instrument with a hankering for originality. His music is as close to jazz as Schoenberg was to romanticism: running away and not looking back. (Joseph DeFranceschi)

8 p.m.
Intersection for the Arts [www.theintersection.org]
446 Valencia, SF
(415) 626-2787

“Rigo 23: New Work”
Rather than hurriedly spray-painting bed sheets and stapling them to broomsticks, Portuguese-born muralist Rigo 23 has composed eight large political banners using ink and acrylic on unstretched canvas, lending an element of patience and permanence to his messages. The issues Rigo 23 (who has been based in San Francisco for the past 20 years) addresses cover the political spectrum, from Fallujah to Korea to Mumia, and his media-savvy style offers a new way to think about them. Work by Robert Pimple (Barry McGee) and Clare Rojas is also on view. (Katie Kurtz)

Through July 22
Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Gallery Paule Anglim, [www.gallerypauleanglim.com] 14 Geary, SF
(415) 433-2710



JUlY 10

Neil MacFarquhar
The New York Times correspondent and former Cairo Bureau Chief discusses his book The Sand Café: Reporting from the Mideast on War, Democracy and Despots, which recollects his experiences as a frontline reporter during the first invasion of Iraq. (Deborah Giattina)
Reception, 5:30 p.m.; program, 6 p.m.
Commonwealth Club of California [www.commonwealthclub.org]
595 Market, second floor, SF
$18; free for members
(415) 597-6700

Parenthetical Girls
Let’s talk about (((GRRRLS))) – sweet, sinister Dead Scientists and Jherek Bischoff converge with exploding viz-art mover-rad dude BARR, ducky Lucky Dragons, and all-out Snowsuit. (Kimberly Chun)
6 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern [www.hemlocktavern.com]
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923



JUlY 9

Buyer Be Fair: The Promise of Certification
Watch Buyer Be Fair: The Promise of Certification at a screening sponsored by the Bay Area Fair Trade Coalition, followed by a discussion led by John De Graaf of TransFair USA. (Deborah Giattina)

7 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
(415) 824-3890, jwalsh@transfairusa.org (RSVP)

SF General Strike Walk
Steee-rrr-ike! I’ve done it before and could do it again, and I ain’t talking about throwing or missing a baseball. This morning, in conjunction with the mammoth and multifaceted LaborFest, [www.laborfest.net] International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 member Jack Heyman leads a walk and history talk devoted to the famous 1934 West Coast longshore strike. Focusing on how the strike was organized and why it was successful, Heyman will include some key historical sites related to the police violence of Bloody Thursday and the effective protests (remember those?) that took place in its wake. (Johnny Ray Huston)

10:30 a.m.
Harry Bridges Plaza, front of Ferry Building
Embarcadero, SF



JUlY 8

A Scanner Darkly
Placing a surreal frame around Philip K. Dick’s tale of addiction and paranoia in the not-too-distant future, Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly represents the best possible marriage of story and style. It’s hard to imagine what a conventional film would’ve done with Dick’s material after seeing Linklater’s take, which represents his second foray into interpolated rotoscoping (basically, animation over live action; Waking Life was the first). Visually, the technique heightens the impact of plot devices like an undercover cop’s shape-shifting “scramble suit”; it also adds an extra layer of what-the-fuckness to the downward spiral of said cop, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), who happens to be rabidly bound to a mysterious drug known only as Substance D. (Cheryl Eddy)

San Francisco theaters

Tilly and the Wall
In the grand irony that defines the indie rock generation, nostalgia is huge. Childhood is the kingpin of nostalgia. Tilly and the Wall take all the colors of innocence and drop them into a bubbling vat of flamenco-flavored whimsy. Using a tutu-wearing tap dancer in place of a drum kit, this band is taking the Peter Pan syndrome to a whole different level. Bottoms of Barrells (Team Love), the most recent release from the Tillies, includes accordion, cello, trumpet, plenty of handclaps, and the University of Nebraska’s Trip the Light Fantastic choir, propelling their sound from scaled-down kiddy rock to a lushly complex excuse to use the word “syrupy” in a music review. The flagship band of the Omaha-based Team Love label (started by Bright Eye’s frontman Conor Oberst) will be tapping into Cafe du Nord tonight. (K. Tighe)

9:30 p.m.
Cafe du Nord [www.cafedunord.com]
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016



JUlY 7

Artificial Intelligence
Yes, Virginia, there is still drum ‘n’ bass in San Francisco. Look no further than the Soul Stream and Still Doin’ It crews, who team up tonight to bring Artificial Intelligence from the UK to the Bay for the first time. The London-based production duo of Glenn Herweijer and Zula Warner are responsible for a string of releases on imprints like V Recordings, Commercial Suicide, and Soul: R, as well as running their own Widescreen label. The pair are touring in support of their new mix CD Liquid V Club Sessions vol. 2: The Big Picture (Liquid V), which features their own tracks alongside cuts from Roni Size, Calibre, and others. Local pressure brought by the Still Doin’ It and Soul Stream DJs along with the Colonel MC on the mic. (Peter Nicholson)

9 p.m.
BOCA www.sfboca.com
414 Jessie, SF
(415) 474-7973

“Verve Syntheses”
All that shiny, glossy stuff – so large, so speedy, so colorful, so alluring, and so deceitful and unfulfilling. Not just post-Pollock in their computer splatter approach, Yoon Lee’s paintings also possess a postpop cynicism about advertising imagery and consumer culture even if it isn’t immediately apparent or spelled out through helpful text. How do graffiti and urban architecture figure as influences within Lee’s work? Placed next to each other, are these acrylic polymer and pigment monuments powerful or numbing? Lee’s new show, “Verve Syntheses,” at the ever great Luggage Store – recently given a deserved deluxe interview profile in ANP Quarterly – should provide some answers. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Through Aug. 5. Reception Fri/7, 6-8 p.m.
The Luggage Store
1007 Market, SF
(415) 255-5971



JUlY 6

Peter Camejo
Hear former Green Party candidate for California governor Peter Camejo talk about his new book on how corporations have taken control of our state, California Under Corporate Rule. (Deborah Giattina)

7:30 p.m.
Modern Times Bookstore
888 Valencia, SF
(415) 282-9246,

“Too scary for DVD”
Poor Roberto is a rock ‘n’ roll drummer who tangles himself up in a bizarre mess of murders. Featuring classic deaths like the needle-to- the-heart, and of course the “Did that guy really die?” death, Four Flies on Grey Velvet is more than any film buff could hope for. This rare Argento giallo has never been available on DVD or VHS but lucky you – you live in San Francisco! The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will be showing an offbeat 35mm horror film every Thursday in July. Later this month David Lowell Rich’s Eye of the Cat will change the way you look at felines. Think you have landlord problems? Watch Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington Place. Finally, watch Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye for the best in psycho-delic slash. (K. Tighe)

Every Thursday in July
7 p.m., 9:15 p.m.
YBCA Screening Room [www.ybca.org]
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-ARTS




Sobering up and tucking our rainbow gear safely away for next year, we should reflect on Pride’s flamboyant declarations of unconditional love and acceptance during a time of right-wing political backlash by thinking about the struggles that Bay Area queers are faced with on a daily basis – which are, of course, endless breakups and the makeups that follow. All drama aside, you can be sure that the trio of Colin, Chriso, and Peter is one set of Ex-Boyfriends that you’ll actually be happy to see in a bar with your new honey on your hip, as the boys return with their own special brand of “more-fuckable- than-thou” queer pop rock. (Jenny Miyasaki)

With Music for Animals and Sholi
9:30 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016

LaborFest 2006 opening night
Come to the first event of LaborFest 2006, which celebrates laborers through film, art, tours, and talks. This year’s monthlong event focuses on the workers who rebuilt San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, beginning with a reception for “1906/2006 Rebuilding: Then and Now Workers Building the Bay Area,” an exhibit of images from a new collection of photographs of the workers. (Deborah Giattina)

5 p.m.
San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery
City Hall, Lower Level
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, SF
(415) 867-0628

But I love it!


Valley of the Dolls
(Fox Home Entertainment)
PRESS PLAY My favorite anecdote about Susan Hayward hides in a Nicholas Ray biography. When director Ray first met Hayward before the filming of 1952’s The Lusty Men, he launched into one of his characteristic orations about methods of acting. Hayward knitted. Ray jabbered. After a while she cut him short. “Listen, honey, I’m from Brooklyn,” she said with a trademark from-the-gut growl that could stop a linebacker short. “What’s the story?”
In the case of 1967’s Valley of the Dolls, the story was Jacqueline Susann’s — at least until Mark Robson’s botched-in-so-many-wondrous-ways movie landed like an Evening in Paris smoke bomb in theaters. It’s easy to forget what, um, rich material Val Lewton acolyte Robson was failing to work with here, and you can’t count on today’s Castro clone to point out the protofeminism or the latent and perhaps Ethel Merman–inspired lesbianism in Susann’s novel, a megapopular follow-up to a best seller about her pet poodle. If heterosexual men fuck the way Susann’s book claims they do, no wonder Neely O’Hara was just the dame to prove Ted Casablanca was “not a fag!”
“Finally!” exclaims a sticker affixed to the Valley of the Dolls DVD in the window display of Streetlight Records on Market, and indeed it feels like it has taken longer than forever for Valley of the Dolls to make the transition from VHS to headed-for-obsolescence disc. The wait has brought us some average packaging and a number of extras, including a documentary about Susann that’s no deeper than the biodrama Isn’t She Great? (wasn’t that terrible?) and some mercifully brief clips of Judy Garland’s screen tests for the role of Helen Lawson. But we didn’t buy this thing for an E! network facsimile’s commentary. We bought it for the movie, 200 proof, “straight,” no chaser.
It’s all here. Dionne Warwick’s rendition of the title song, still as cold as New England snow. The other awful musical numbers, copenned by Dory “Midgets” Previn before Mia Farrow gave her a reason to beware of young girls. Sharon Tate’s absurd calls from “Mother” (surely the inspiration for Julianne Moore’s phone chats in Todd Haynes’s Safe) and Lee Grant’s stage-wings glare (ditto Grant’s own performance in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive).
There are so many wacky moments to love, like the lingering seconds when a necklace around Patty Duke’s neck assumes a bra shape over what her character would call “boobies” midway through one musical number. There is Duke’s rollicking performance, which careens from cross-eyed lousy to directly — not just campily — wonderful and back again with a fervor matched only by Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls. There are the tossed-off lines — so true — about how bitchy fags can be, and how booze helps dolls work faster. And finally there is Hayward, marching forward through this stinkin’ show, rolling with the below-the-belt punches, with or without a wig, but always with dignity. When Hayward’s Helen Lawson declares that you need a “hard core” to survive — you know, shortly after her yapping former understudy has tried one scheme too many — you better believe it. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Strap it on


CULT MOVIE It’s finally here. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Fox Home Entertainment), a top contender in my sordid little mind for the greatest movie ever made (next time you see me in a bar and have two or three hours to kill, I can give you the complete list) has arrived in splendid, special-edition DVD form. Has Hollywood ever been so satirically skewered? Has a single film ever crammed in so many genres — musical, comedy, melodrama, youth-gone-wild, slasher? Has the Bentley vs. Rolls sex question ever been so definitively answered?
From its opening, mind-blowing tease to its hilariously somber coda, Russ Meyer’s brilliantly colored, brilliantly bizarre 1970 classic (scripted by Roger Ebert, it was Meyer’s first major-studio release) stands well enough on its own. But in this two-disc package you also get commentaries (one by Ebert, one by cast members); a giddy making-of doc; featurettes spotlighting the film’s rockin’ tunes, groovy dialogue, and more; and screen tests featuring future Carrie Nation members Cynthia Meyers (Casey) and Marcia McBroom (Pet).
But it gets better, superwoman. This week, pry your sweaty claws off your BVD DVD and look on up at Peaches Christ, who’ll be hosting a reunion of stars McBroom, Erica Gavin (Roxanne), and John La Zar (Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell). Midnight Mass unspools two nights of gentle people and mayonnaise on the big screen, and the cast — currently on a mini–promo tour that also includes stops in Austin, Los Angeles, and Phoenix — will descend on Amoeba with Peaches for a DVD signing.
“This is gonna be so much fun for me,” La Zar enthuses over the phone from LA. “San Francisco is my hometown — I was raised in the Richmond District, 36th Avenue right off Fulton. This will be the first time I’ve worked in San Francisco since [I performed with] American Conservatory Theater in 1967.”
Cast as the Phil Spector–ish, flowery-tongued Z-Man after he was spotted by 20th Century Fox scouts doing a play in Hawaii (“They needed a young man who could do kind of a weird classical thing”), La Zar isn’t surprised BVD has enthralled a new generation of fans. “It’s a youth film, isn’t it — there’s still a rebelliousness to it.”
La Zar reveals he wasn’t initially fond of the film’s most memorable line — “This is my happening, and it freaks me out!” — later aped in the Ghost World comic and by Austin Powers, among others. “I thought the line sucked, but Russ Meyer shamed me into it. He said, ‘You’re an actor, aren’t you?’ And lo and behold, that’s what I’m most famous for in the film!”
Prior to BVD, Hollywood native Gavin starred in Meyer’s 1968 smash, Vixen! “I was much smaller than most of his women, but he figured maybe women could relate to me better,” Gavin says, speaking from her SoCal home about the famously breast-obsessed director, whom she recalls with great fondness. “He was a big teddy bear — tough on the outside and mushy on the inside.”
Gavin, who’s thrilled that BVD is receiving such grand DVD treatment, remembers how excited Meyer was while making the film. “The budget was huge for him. He was like a babe in toyland — he had all these resources at his fingertips.”
The film has endured, she thinks, because of its humor. “It’s almost like, no matter what generation, it’s so silly — almost like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Spinal Tap. It’s not a comment on today, or life as it is. It’s really life as it isn’t. It’s cuckoo!” (Cheryl Eddy)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls reunion show
With Erica Gavin, John La Zar, and Marcia McBroom
Fri/7–Sat/8, 11:59 p.m.
Bridge Theatre
3010 Geary, SF
(415) 751-3213
Sat/8, 2 p.m.
Amoeba Music
1855 Haight, SF
(415) 831-1200



› a&eletters@sfbg.com
China, the burgeoning frontier of unfettered capitalism these days, naturally gives rise to much scholarly and popular commentary as one market follows another. Much of this is predictably pervaded by a sense of inevitability, as if so-called globalization were nothing but the natural march of human reason toward a higher evolutionary plain, and not the hodgepodge of policies, rules, initiatives, laws, power grabs, scams, offices, organizations, strong-arm tactics, lies, capitulations, and conspiracies that it is.
Two news stories out of China — the explosion of a school where children also assembled firecrackers for a factory and the torching of an illegal Internet café by two teenagers — served as inspiration for We Are Not These Hands, a new play by Sheila Callaghan that questions just the sort of assumptions basic to the neoliberal program busily rending the world in the name of inexorable economic laws.
The play follows two desperately poor teenage girls, Moth (Juliet Tanner) and Belly (Cassie Beck), natives of a riverside city in an imaginary, rapidly developing country not unlike China, with their noses habitually pressed to the glass of an illegal Internet café. The “café” (handily realized by scenic designer Joel Frangquist) is a ramshackle affair of plywood walls and foldout tables with barely a functioning computer and not a drop of actual java. But to the girls it represents the great big beautiful world leaving them behind.
All the more alone since their school blew up (in an accident kindled by the makeshift firecracker factory in the lunchroom), their outsider status is underscored by their private language, childish pet terms and patterns of speech as imaginatively askew as their understanding of the world across the river (patrolled, we learn ominously, by men with machetes) or flashing across the working screens inside the Internet café.
Soon they spot a meal ticket and maybe more in a Western man they dub Leather (Paul Lancour) working at one of the terminals. When they don “the sex clothes” and approach him in a naive and humorously grotesque imitation of professional soliciting, the ensuing interaction is one of mutual incomprehension, but somehow a transaction of sorts takes place. The more amenable Moth returns with Leather to his room at the hostel, beginning what turns into an offbeat and lopsided but semiviable romance, with the promise of salvation attached. “He not a hinky scuzzer,” she assures her friend later on. “He from across the river.”
Leather, it turns out, is a “freelance scholar” writing a thesis on the region’s development, determined to ride the cresting market to private glory on a particularly pathetic raft of economic gobbledygook. His imitation of academic jargon is another instance of mangled language, although with Leather it never leads anywhere, trailing off in ellipses, doubting parenthetical notes, and brilliant points “to be determined at a later time.”
As Moth spends time with Leather at the hostel, Belly takes the coins she’s stolen from his room to the Internet café, later describing to Moth, in terms vaguely mystical and full of wonder, her temporary escape to a paradisiacal beach encountered somewhere in cyberspace. A plan is hatched to get back there, across the river, with Leather as the key.
The play never quite registers the intensity it seems at times to be going for, but Callaghan’s characters reflect a set of tensions, affinities, and contradictions as they negotiate love and survival that speak fluently of their mutual alienation from a half-illusory world of winners. Kent Nicholson’s direction is lively and sure, capturing well the play’s pent-up energies — a mostly satisfying if kooky mix of the satirical, madcap, and bizarre — while also paying due attention to its darker surfaces. Beck and Tanner somehow make natural the comic physicality and verbiage of their characters, successfully plumbing the humor and poignancy in Belly and Moth’s playful but vital dependence on one another. Lancour’s fine, focused performance as the frazzled, disturbed, lonely, and beset Leather, meanwhile, is a nicely original creation, broadly absurd yet also shaded by a deep ambivalence. SFBG
Through July 16. Thurs.–>Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.
Ashby Stage
1901 Ashby, Berk.

The Wolf that Peter built


Prohibition saw the blossoming of alcoholic communing. Antismoking laws brought smokers closer together. So what about this musical wolf craze, Wolfmothers and Wolfkings, the endless urge to shape-shift? We’re becoming more human.
Note the outpouring of pop collectives that are truly collective. Observe Austin, Texas’s Peter and the Wolf, Red Hunter’s experimental folk project, whose acoustic performances in graveyards, in abandoned buses, even on an island, have put them on the map. For the island gig, Hunter said, speaking from his hometown the day before his current tour began, “People rowed out! We’re not trying to get back to nature; we’re just all about finding weird places to play.”
On the East Coast, Hunter will be joined by Jana Hunter — no relation — and the Castanets for a tour via sailboat. Originally just “bar talk” about alternative-energy means of touring, the sailboat is now ready and willing. The quest for “polypropylene Bermuda shorts” has trumped other logistical concerns.
On Peter and the Wolf (Whiskey and Apples), Dana Falconberry adds an angelic vocal counterpart to Hunter’s raw folk sound. Imagine the Ditty Bops — who’ve been touring by bicycle — without the in-your-face theatricality. Each acoustic, indie-loungey tune on Peter and the Wolf is punctuated like a single snippet of conversation. In “How I Wish,” the duo beckons, “Meet me on the wooden bridge/We will smoke and then we’ll wander.” In the postbeat dreamscape “What Happened Up There …,” past lives mingle with present lusts.
In Scotland, I drank surprisingly trippy alcoholic homebrew, a friend’s Irish family recipe. Moonshine. Hooch. Stumpblaster. Whatever, man, if we’re on the road to ruin, we might as well see it up close and personal. For Hunter and his hunters this summer, every campfire is a carnival waiting to happen. When, someday, we finally tell our stories, he predicts on the animistic “The Fall,” we will be gloriously “Desperate and serious/The chasing will be furious.”
Apocalypses aside, everyone’s talking about two things these days: the energy crisis and Matthew Barney’s annoying insistence on big-budget “restraint.” Well, Prokofiev probably wouldn’t have produced his every-instrument-is-an-animal Peter and the Wolf without Stalin’s caustic commie prodding. But Hunter needs no such restriction. His energy leaps through the seams. “Do you think of me when he’s boring you/I’ll bet you do,” he sings on “Silent Movies.” Now that’s a man I can believe in. (Ari Messer)
With Viking Moses, Casual Fog, and Terrors
Sun/9, 9 p.m.
Hotel Utah
500 Fourth St., SF
(415) 546-6300

What’s the Damaged?


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Look, I tried — as much as any 35-year-old can be expected to try — to get excited by, or even minimally interested in, the Warped Tour. Excuse me — what I mean is the Vans Warped Tour, featuring the Volcom Stage, and the Guitar Center Warp Your Summer with NOFX contest, and the Energizer Encore, wherein you can vote to see your favorite Warped band play 10 minutes longer. Why, if I could only see Davey Havok’s frontal mullet, Cure fan circa ’86 hairdo for one-sixth of an hour longer, I think I’d need to change my underwear. Oh, wait — AFI aren’t playing? Well, I’m sure that haircut will be prominently featured on a good percentage of soul-crushing, woe-is-me, mall-rock bands out there on Piers 30 and 32 on July 8. They’ll be soaking in the ultraviolet-ultraviolent radiation of sun and prepubescent adoration, smashing the state, and killing you softly with their songs and pouty lips.
OK, you got me. For someone with a master’s degree in writing, a five-year-old kid, and a copy of Damaged on vinyl, poking fun at the Warped Tour is like hunting geriatric cows with a shotgun.
Warped just isn’t my thing, nor is it supposed to be. Like it or not, gramps, punk rock — and all of its attendant bastard children, Emo, Screamo, Puddin’, and Pie, and the rest of the seven dwarves — is big business. An uncool outcast who just can’t relate to mainstream society, man is the cool thing to be. The punks are now the jocks. The hipsters are the cheerleaders, and the whole thing plays in Peoria quite well, thank you. It plays in the food court as your little sister and her friends compare the bitchin’ spiked belts they just purchased over chicken nuggets and coconut-banana Frappucinos.
Having graduated from high school in 1989, I missed both the Sex Pistols at Winterland and the Warped phenomenon, and here I am — stuck in the middle with you. I had a couple friends who went one year, mainly to see the Descendents and Bad Religion, and I almost joined them, but discretion is the better part of valor, and the whole circus atmosphere just didn’t seem like it’d be fun. More specifically, it didn’t seem like it would be punk rock in the way that I thought punk rock was fun. It wasn’t a dark, dangerous club with dark, dangerous individuals singing from their dark, dangerous hearts about dark, dangerous things. Of course, all of this dark dangerousness has been an illusion since Iggy rolled around on broken glass during the recording of Metallic K.O. (Skydog, 1976). Nonetheless, punk rock shouldn’t require suntan lotion and plenty of hydration.
But that’s precisely the point. I can’t keep carrying this cross around. It’s covered in Iggy’s blood and Dee Dee Ramone’s track marks. The Warped Tour is not about punk rock. It’s about the kids having fun in the sun, and I’m no longer a kid. Point blank, whoot — there it is. It’s time to put the dharma where my mouth is — no more ignoring reality. I’m not a kid, but I’ve got one, a rock ’n’ roll kid who, like her dad, loves Joan Jett and would go positively ape-shit hearing “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” live for the first time.
Aside from Jett, there are a handful of other acts confirmed or rumored to be playing Warped who are actually worth checking out. Duane Peters’s band Die Hunns is performing, despite his vow to “never play that fuckin’ thing again,” and you know that’s got to be good — the Master of Disaster has no off switch, and his wife, Corey Parks, is a surgically augmented, tattooed, fire-breathing rock Valkyrie.
Peters told me that the Buzzcocks are playing, though I’ve yet to see it in print. They’re probably on a tiny stage in the back, next to the generator truck, the burrito shack, and the roadie break room. You know, where the good artists play. Artists like Mike Watt, God of the Thunderbroom and flannel-flying Pedro (that’s Pee-dro to you, youngster) good guy. And despite how bored you may be with lowbrow prankster punks turned political activists NOFX — the last time I saw them was at the Stone in ’86 — they are guaranteed to be entertaining.
Finally, the Warped tour features some bad-ass BMXers and skaters. I’m not really sure who, as finding a list of the athletes on the tour is harder than finding a complete band list. I will say that Vans sponsors skaters like flowmaster Tony Trujillo and tech king Bucky Lasek, as well as BMX wunderkinder Ryan Guettler and Scotty Cranmer, who can both do front flips 10 feet out of a spine, so it’d be worth it to go on the chance of seeing one of those guys. There’s bound to be enough wheeled heroics and side-stage real rock action that even a crotchety parental type like myself can get something out of the whole fandango. And that’s what I’m gonna do, 5-year-old daughter and 10-year-old niece in tow. Long live the new breed. SFBG
Sat/8, 11 a.m.
Piers 30 and 32, SF
(415) 421-TIXS

Music for nothing


› a&eletters@sfbg.com We’re living in a golden age of commercial radio in the Bay Area: It’s now possible to hear “Brandy” by Looking Glass on at least four stations. Ladies and gentlemen, meet 95.7 Max FM, the station that plays whatever it wants, whenever it feels like it, as long as it was a Top 40 hit between 1970 and 1995. Max FM, the station that never plays the same song in the same day, as long as you don’t consider John Cougar Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” and Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll” to be the same song. Max FM is part of the wider “Variety Hits” movement that’s been shaking up the airwaves in the last two years. Countless FM stations are firing their on-air talent and concocting identities based on computer-generated playlists and smart-assy yet avuncular personas. Usually played by a single vaguely familiar commercial actor, the voice-overs provide the attitude during the seemingly endless interstitials that have replaced the human DJs. The personae’s names vary — Jack, Bob, Max — but they share a certain rock-solid, Rotary Club cachet. They’re names scientists give to captive chimps. Names of high-end teddy bears. Names that survivors of ritual abuse give to their multiple personalities. Guy names. Whatever the local moniker, the Jack-Bob-Ben-Dave-Max aesthetic is multifaceted, encompassing everything from Adult Hits to Variety Alternative to Adult Variety. Granted, the playlist is a cut below what you might find on Cameron Crowe’s Ultimate Megamix: it’s Don Henley and Billy Squier instead of the Eagles and Led Zeppelin. Still, there’s an element of surprise in the so-called “train wreck” segues that are the format’s bread and butter. Stick around for long enough and you’ll hear blues (the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “Tuff Enuff”), Afrobeat (Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al”), and even reggae (the first 10 seconds of the Police’s “Roxanne”) — possibly all within the same set. What follows is an attempt to crack the Variety Hits–slash–Max FM code in one nonstop 24-hour sitting. CHRONOLOGY 7:58 p.m. First four songs: Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” An earnest heartland vibe, but nothing too objectionable so far. 8:35 p.m. Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” One of the station’s mottoes is “Max FM: The songs you forgot you remembered,” and they’re not joking. When you hear the guitars break in, you realize just how kick-ass this song really is. Just kidding. Oliver Sacks should write a book about those of us who are immune to the chill that shoots down the spine after recognizing the first three chords. 9:23 p.m. Following a whopping 16 consecutive male artists, token female-fronted act Blondie weighs in with “The Tide is High” — followed by the Boss, U2, and Elton John. The male-heavy playlist reinforces our image of the archetypal Max FM listener as a dude who bought one of the first CD players in the mid-’80s and then built his collection around a string of strategic BMG and Columbia House memberships: lots of greatest hits collections, lots of middling white-guy rock. 10:18 p.m. Parliament’s “We Want the Funk.” This one came out of left field. “I really wanted to hate this station,” admits Will York. “But I have to say, I like a solid one-fourth of the songs they play.” For the record, this is the second song by an African American artist in three hours. The first: Phil Bailey, in collaboration with Phil Collins on the soul-dead classic “Easy Lover.” 11:18 p.m. King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Haven’t heard this one in a while. Another musty oldie-but-sure-enough goodie. 11:35 p.m. Just when you start to fall in love with the station, they turn around and blast you right in the package with some insipid ’80s fossil like Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” 11:39 p.m. And they follow it up with Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F.” Wow. Music at its worst. 11:42 p.m. Interstitial: “Max FM. We break all the rules.” Do they call “shotgun!” while they’re still eating dinner? If it’s yellow, do they not let it mellow? What is so anarchic about a computer that plays Top 40 hits? 12:46 a.m. Night suddenly takes turn for the better when housemate arrives with partially eaten Middle Eastern platter found on the street. Pita gone. Lots of hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush left. Embodying the anything goes spirit of Max FM, Jay and Will decide to eat it. 12:52 a.m. Night takes turn for the grotesque: Will finds part of a severed thumb with a nail through it buried in the hummus. U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” plays in the background. 1:22 a.m. Actual listener phone call: “Even the guy I share an office with is, like, ‘What station is that?’>” You can picture them tuning in and hoping for an “Eye of the Tiger” to get them pumped up to go duke it out with the yahoos down in accounts receivable. P.S. Calling a radio station that doesn’t have a DJ is like writing a letter to Ronald McDonald — pathetic. 2:02 a.m. Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way.” Delirium is slowly descending, as the conversation starts to resemble dialogue from a Philip K. Dick novel: WILL: Is that from Frampton Comes Alive? JAY: What isn’t from Frampton Comes Alive? WILL: Good point. 2:36 a.m. Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” A challenging game to play while listening to Max FM: Name the Weird Al Yankovic Version of That Tune. He’s parodied a good 20 percent of the station’s playlist, including this one. 2:40 a.m. Interstitial: “You never know what you’re going to hear next on Max FM!” Maybe not, but at this point, it’s far more likely to be an Eddie Money song than, say, a James Gang deep cut or an excerpt from Malcolm X’s “Keep That White Man’s Claws off Our Women” speech. 3:28 a.m. Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Exhaustion setting in. Will is now listening to pirated George Carlin MP3s on his laptop; Jay is playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and starting to hallucinate. Sky still dark as the night continues. 3:46 a.m. Actual listener phone call: “I thought my girlfriend was playing music from my CD collection, but it turned out to be Max FM. Keep up the good work!” Dear listener: You might want to head down to the Money Mart at 16th Street and Valencia, because it appears the hobo with the CDs lined up against the wall is unloading your “collection” at 25 cents a pop. 5:15 a.m. K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty.” If there’s one word to describe this station’s music, it’s Caucasian. Jay and Will haven’t felt this uncomfortable being white since the Rodney King verdict. 5:22 a.m. Mike and the Mechanics’ “Silent Running.” The face in the mirror is not my own, thinks Jay. I am gazing into the five o’clock shadow of a serial killer. 7:02 a.m. Interesting batch of songs in the last 45 minutes: “Time” by the Alan Parsons Project, “Clocks” by Coldplay, and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago. The computer that programs these songs appears to be signaling for help in cleaning up some residual Y2K issues. 8:41 a.m. The Beatles’ “Get Back.” They play one Beatles song, and it’s hands down one of their worst ever. 9:06 a.m. Ambrosia’s “You’re the Only Woman.” The next person Will meets who actually wants to hear an Ambrosia song on the radio will be the first. 12:44 p.m. Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square.” There’s a very real possibility that Jay will be handcuffed to a gurney by the end of this experiment. 1:43 p.m. Genesis’ “Invisible Touch.” Will feels like Chevy Chase in European Vacation, only instead of pointing out, “Big Ben! Parliament!” he’s muttering “Phil Collins … Genesis.” Six more hours. 3:37 p.m. Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” Never question the Elton Joel Theorem: “If a station plays Elton John, then it also plays Billy Joel.” It took a while, but Joel is officially on the board — although Elton still leads the competition, four to one. 4:23 p.m. “I put a moratorium on crap,” announces Max FM voice-over specialist John O’Hurley, a.k.a. J. Peterman from Seinfeld. Unfortunately, the moratorium lasts just 0.7 seconds, as the next song is Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off.” 6:31 p.m. In the last hour: Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” and “The Heart of the Matter.” It’s simply impossible to underestimate Henley’s place in the Max FM pantheon. His Building the Perfect Beast and The End of the Innocence are the Sgt. Pepper’s and “White Album” of the Variety Hits genre. 7:56 p.m. Bruce Hornsby’s “Mandolin Rain.” This plain vanilla piano ballad marks a fitting end to a day of plain vanilla music. Having come out on the other side, Jay and Will can empathize with the character from the French plantation scene in Apocalypse Now Redux who described the Vietnam War as “the biggest nothing in history.” SFBG

Comedy with overbite


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Legendary critic Pauline Kael once described Taylor Hackford’s An Officer and a Gentleman as “crap on a motorcycle.” It might be as cheese-constipated as movies get, she argued, but at least it has the good sense to amplify the cheese to mind-obliterating excess: Junk this big and fast is bound to satisfy an audience — or at least stupefy it into submission.
The tactic is especially relatable to that dubious summer movie subgenre, the TV-show-to-movie adaptation. If most television shows are crap, most shows made into films attempt to shine up the turd with tremendous torque: over-the-top set pieces, deafening pyrotechnics, gimmicky postmodern conceits, and general crap-tasticness (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle was even accommodating enough to throw in some actual motorcycles).
Strangers with Candy offers a perversely ingenious spin on this sad state of affairs. The late-’90s Comedy Central TV series (created by longtime collaborators Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Dinello) was in essence a parody of a bad TV show to begin with, so it’s only appropriate that the movie plays like a parody of a movie based on a bad TV show.
The story revolves around the tribulations of Jerri Blank (Sedaris), a skeezy 46-year-old former junkie, prostitute, and child runaway. After being released from prison, Jerri decides to start her life over. (“Can we chay-ange?” she asks in dramatic voice-over as she shanks a fellow inmate in slo-mo.) She returns to her childhood home, promptly enrolls in her old high school as a freshman, and tries her best to fit in — which for the clueless Jerri means showing up wearing the highest waisted jeans ever while carrying a copy of the yellow pages in lieu of a textbook.
If the show was an excuse to satirize the fertile ground of straight-faced coming-of-age melodrama, the movie is an excuse to take the satire full tilt: Virtually every scene ends with a swell of the climactic, emotional score as characters come to terms with their feelings (“I wasn’t pushing you away, I was pulling me towards myself”). And the crap-on-a-motorcycle principle culminates with the purposefully sitcomish main plotline — which hinges on Jerri and her team winning the science fair with a feces-powered battery — leading to a Carrie-style “fire” and rampage in the gym.
Strangers was a relatively obscure cult success on basic cable, and many mainstream moviegoers probably won’t know what to make of this odd little gem. Dedicated fans, however, have little to worry about. The principals reprise their roles (including Dinello as the naive, not-so-ambiguously gay art teacher Mr. Jellineck and Colbert doing a variation of his self-satisfied asshole talk-show persona as Mr. Noblet), and the nasty spirit at the core of the show hasn’t been diluted.
That nasty spirit is personified by walking, talking track mark Jerri Blank, and Sedaris gamely destroys any shred of personal vanity she might have had left after the series to portray her again. Jerri’s pathetic desperation and her obliviousness to her shortcomings make her part childlike rube, part vicious opportunist, and Sedaris revels in every poisoned aside she spits through her contorted overbite. “I was thinking about pussy,” she deadpans. “Science fair is for queers.” Despite Jerri’s rottenness, she’s more of a comic-tragic figure than someone simply to laugh at. Her gameness to try and fail over and over (without ever realizing she’s failed) makes her, if not entirely lovable, at the very least endearing. She may be a bitter pill to swallow, but Candy is still one of the sweeter surprises in a movie season inevitably stinking of a certain number two. SFBG
Opens Fri/7
Bridge Theatre
3010 Geary, SF
(415) 267-4893
California Theatre
2113 Kittredge, Berk.
(510) 464-5980
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
for theaters and showtimes



“My basic photography lesson is this: You frame the perfect composition, exactly like you want it, and then you step forward,” says Larry Clark. “What that does is screw things up a little bit, so they’ll become more real, more like the way you see.”
We’re at a restaurant South of Market, and the man behind the monographs Tulsa and Teenage Lust and the films Kids, Bully, and the new Wassup Rockers is talking when he should be eating. I’m glad, because he has a lot to say. On the car ride to Zuppa, he reminisced about a brief late-1960s spell in San Francisco after an Army stint in Vietnam — once here, Clark’s time included a few Janis Joplin encounters. Once we’ve sat down at the table, when I mention the ties between Wassup Rockers and the underrated 1968 Burt Lancaster vehicle The Swimmer, Clark agrees that Lancaster’s performance is “extremely brave” and then serves up a real whopper: A film publicist once told him that Lancaster had a love affair with Luchino Visconti during the filming of 1963’s The Leopard, and that Lancaster was left an emotional wreck when Visconti dumped him.
Well, when in Rome …
It’s an interesting, clichéd truism to apply to Clark’s work, which doesn’t fit the tired modern sense of gay by any stretch of the imagination but is certainly appreciative of male as well as female allure. In the silly and energetic Wassup Rockers, his distinctive eye rolls with a band of Guatemalan and Salvadoran skateboarders as they travel through Beverly Hills, a gated community that starts to seem more and more like a prison. Wassup is often like a 21st-century version of a Bowery Boys comedy, with Clark (in his words) “riffing off of white people” and “riffing off of pop culture.” Before one of the title characters shares a bubble bath with Janice Dickinson, he and a friend — whose jeans and bulge would make Peter Berlin envious — have a tender tête-à-tête with some Hilton types. “Paris and Nicky were too old for me [when the film started shooting],” Clark jokes.
Born in Oklahoma but sporting a huggable Brooklynese accent and looking surprisingly healthy and sweet (if worn) at 63, Clark is still very much a child at heart, the nonsnarky and better-dressed real-life answer to Strangers With Candy’s former smack user and permanent high schooler Jerri Blank. Wassup Rockers is his third collaboration with cinematographer Steve Gainer, who picked up tricks of the trade working under Roger Corman in the 1990s. The link is an apt one because Clark is still working with genre in the Corman teensploitation or celebration-of-youth-culture sense.
Does Clark think his one-step-forward approach to camerawork dates back to the early 1970s and the speed-shooting and baby-death days of Tulsa? “It was a little more formal then,” he says, adding that he was more influenced by Robert Frank imitators — and by “the best,” Walker Evans — than by Frank, whom he knew little about when he made the book. “Tulsa is really about rooms. We’re in very small rooms, and we’re very close.”
Going back to those rooms means going down with Janis again; as the fellow Clark enthusiast with me observantly notes, a Joplin poster appears on the wall of one of those dark spaces. “The first time I met her it was early in the morning and we were walking across that big park in Haight Ashbury,” Clark recalls. “She was with someone from Big Brother [and the Holding Company] and I was with someone who knew him. I remember she was smoking a cigarette and she was holding it like this” — he imitates a loose gesture — “and her fingers were all yellow, and she said, ‘I really like these Pall Malls because you smoke them right down to the end like a junkie.’”
Clark hasn’t gone right down to the end like a junkie, though Tulsa certainly pictures exactly that type of fate with a void-gazing ferocity that no television episode of Intervention will match. It’s crazy, really, how many ways mass media — fashion and advertising and “indie” film in particular — have both copped and watered down or misinterpreted Clark’s aesthetics (a bit similar to what’s happened with John Waters, though perhaps even more subtly pervasive). The producers of MTV’s Laguna Beach and The Hills, original offender Calvin Klein, and now American Apparel owe him a mint’s worth of royalties for their third-rate rip-offs. At least the latter recently threw a huge party for the cast members of Wassup Rockers and their families, complete with live performances by the band featured in the movie.
If Clark is still thriving in art and life today, some credit should be given to his girlfriend, Tiffany Limos, whose candid criticism of Clark’s past movies doubtless informed his approach to Wassup Rockers. Limos is too young to be responsible for the genius choice of soundtracking Clark’s recent mammoth Manhattan gallery show, “Punk Picasso,” with Nancy Wilson’s But Beautiful, but she did tell him to place a hilarious video installation of her beyond-hyper bichon frise near the show’s end, an element that is echoed in a funny dog-attack scene within Wassup Rockers.
“That video is like the real Larry Clark,” Clark says with a laugh. “Tiff was coming home, and when she would leave I would always tell her that I could not say her name while she was gone because the dog would go crazy. I thought, ‘I’m going to show Tiffany what happens when I say her name.’ But when I made the video, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would use it. It’s funny because I’m talking to this dog like it’s a human being. Sammy runs into the street and I scold him — ‘You’re going to get killed!’ — just like I was talking to a kid.”
Limos also got her friend the fashion designer Jeremy Scott cast in Wassup Rockers as a lascivious gay photographer who looks like Perry Farrell and has a mansion full of horrendous steroidy physique shots (actual work by Tom Bianchi). “Tiffany would bring these photos of Jeremy home,” says Clark. “We had this private joke about him that if you pointed a camera at him he would always do something incredible. Then we would see photos of him at parties in magazines, and true to form, he would always be making some flamboyant pose.”
As the interview winds down, the man who began with a photography tip says he now prefers making films. Then Clark makes a final distinction. “I was never really a photographer,” he says. “I was an artist and a storyteller [when I started out with Tulsa], and I was using photography because that’s what I had.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
Opens Fri/7
Lumiere Theatre
1572 California, SF
(415) 267-4893
Shattuck Cinemas
2230 Shattuck, Berk.
(510) 464-5980
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
for showtimes

Johnny bravo


› cheryl@sfbg.com
Just a few summers ago, we were all snickering into our popcorn tubs: a Pirates of the Caribbean movie? Yo-ho-no! But what could’ve sucked harder than The Haunted Mansion turned into a monster 2003 hit, buoyed by ghostly buccaneers, showy effects, and Johnny Depp’s impeccably bizarre turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, surely the most inventive character yet to emerge from a 21st-century blockbuster. Long before Depp’s Oscar nomination, plans were afoot to increase Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’s bootylicious haul with a pair of sequels filmed back-to-back. So, how can you love a series based on a rather sedate Disneyland attraction — films accompanied by a merch deluge not seen since fanboys were still jazzed about gettin’ to know Darth Maul?
Pretty much, it’s the pirates. Peg legs, cannon battles, talking parrots, mutiny on the high seas, rum chugging — pirate shit is damn near irresistible, especially when Depp’s riding the mast. Within the first reel of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, a chorus of arrrs is raised, a mangy bird plucks out some poor soul’s rotting eyeball, and a crew member remarks that Captain Sparrow is acting “strange … er” than usual. Chest’s plot is more convoluted than Pearl’s, but every character — including Sparrow, feisty Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), heroic Will (Orlando Bloom), and prissy Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) — is searching for someone, or something, with single-minded determination. Chest also shares Pearl’s ticking-clock pacing, with lives and relationships and eternal souls hanging perilously in the balance. Naturally, all these quests become interwoven and complicated by distractions, including a detour to a Skull Island–meets–Joe Versus the Volcano atoll, a gung ho swordfight, a beast bearing giant and aggressive tentacles, and the salty whims of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), whose ghostly Flying Dutchman operates like a kelp-strewn variation on the Philadelphia Experiment.
Unlike, say, flicks based on beloved comic books, Chest has no touchstones to hit or homages to pay, other than dropping in a few references to the first film. This allows director Gore Verbinski and scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (like sultan-of-slick producer Jerry Bruckheimer, all back from Pearl) the freedom to toss whatever they want into their Chest, which runs almost as long as Superman Returns but is infinitely more jolly, Roger. For a big-budget studio confection, there’s actually a lot of imagination at play; Nighy’s sneering performance, coupled with the special effects used to create Davy “Fishface” Jones’s slimy visage, allows for a character who’s equal parts Phantom of the Opera and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
Of course the main reason the Pirates movies are so fun is Depp, without whom we’d be talking about a few hours of flashy CG and a couple of pretty faces (Bloom, you’re still on notice for Elizabethtown). Sparrow prances, turns tail, delivers flowery double-talk, and cares only about saving his own skin (and, of course, his precious hat) — yes, he’s a showboaty clown, but Depp manages to make him likable where others (Jim Carrey?) would simply come up annoying. I’m still not sold on Depp’s Willy Wonka interpretation. But it’s with good reason that Sparrow’s the only film character he’s played more than once.
And he’ll play him again, to be sure. It’s not spoiling anything to say that Chest ends with classic middle-film-of-a-trilogy ambiguity; fates and loyalties wind up shakier than the points on Sparrow’s discombobulated compass. The third Pirates is due next summer, so you won’t have long to wait to see what happens. In the meantime, Chest is a solid adventure with a sense of adventure — cinematic currency that’s as good as gold these days, ye scurvy dog. SFBG
Opens Fri/7
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com for theaters and showtimes

Ra, Ra rah-rah


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Wassup Lauryn Hill? Well apparently she’s been busy morphing into Sun Ra.
A staight-skankin’, massive fro–sportin’, partyin’-with-Method-Man-at-the-Clift-Hotel, “la, la, la, la”-ing Sun Ra.
The lady had about 13 people onstage at Great American Music Hall on June 29 for two last-minute “rehearsal” sets: two drummers, two keyboardists, at least three guitarists, the works. Because the lady clearly wanted to play a bandleader from a galaxy far, far away — and frankly, I haven’t been so interested in Lauryn Hill in years.
She was an artist in her own little world, all right — miming Bitches Brew, turning her unrehearsed Arkestra into an engorged rock-steady big band, and at around 2 a.m., at the end of the second show, launching passionately, stubbornly, into her most popular tunes.
The lights went up. The stage lights flicked off. The power to the mics finally ebbed. And Hill had found her own power trip of a groove — in the dark, where it’s safe — and the audience was in deep doo-doo in love, shouting, “One more! One more! Lau-Ren! Lau-Ren!” At about 2:15 a.m., after much shushing, she began singing “Killing Me Softly” a cappella. Softly. Then she descended into the crowd like an empress to meet her biggest fans.
FISHIN’ MUSICIAN But enough Arkestra-ted diva tripping, we gotta work together, so follow the lead of Aesop Rock and longtime Bay Area artist Jeremy Fish, who have done an ace job in collaborating on a new book playing off those golden children’s record-and-storybook combos. The release of their The Next Best Thing book–7-inch comes with a mini-multimedia promo juggernaut July 6: Fish (who has a load of product in the works, including a new vinyl toy and a board series and short film for Element Skateboards titled Fishtales with a soundtrack by Rock) will show his paintings at Fifty24SF Gallery. And then later that night Aesop Rock will bump up against Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, Murs with Magi, and producer Blockhead at a benefit concert at the Independent for 826 Valencia.
The pair met through a mutual friend and discovered that they’re mutual fans: Rock owned a Fish piece, and the artist had been an avid Rock listener for years. “I saw a lot of his work had cute stuff mixed with evil stuff, which is a lot like what I write about,” says the jovial Rock.
Aesop Rock, of late, has found his work skewing toward the more narrative side of hip-hop: He already has about five “really linear stories” for his next album, expected in 2007. That recording is likely to include more instrumentation by musicians like Parchman Farm, which includes Rock’s wife, Allison “the Jewge” Baker.
Rock moved from New York City to San Francisco to be with her. Romantic — not many superstar underground rap bros will drop everything and uproot for their, um, ho, no? As a result, the music has definitely become “reflective in the sense that I moved out of New York City, turned 30, and got married all in the same year,” he explains. “Those three things all have me doing stories about random childhood stuff, super-folktaley story songs that are almost like the stories you’d read to a child.”
CORE CREW Director Dick Rude was enlisted to make Let’s Rock Again, a documentary of his friend Joe Strummer’s time with the Mescaleros around the time of 2001’s Global a Go-Go. And he captured Strummer in deep working-musician mode. “Having done the Clash and having reached that height of stardom, he was really just consumed with getting his music heard and not reaching that level again, so there was a real humility and passion to his approach on the tour,” says the LA videomaker. “It became about breaking the record so he could have a chance to record another record.”
Rude, who met Strummer while he was working as an assistant to director Alex Cox on Sid and Nancy, calls the film — which will be screened one time in San Francisco and is now out on DVD — more of a “memoir of that time” than a biopic of Strummer. As for Strummer’s posthumously released music on Streetcore, Rude believes, “There are tracks on that record that rival any Clash tune. There is no pretension, nothing to prove, just straight-out passion.” SFBG
Opening Thurs/6, 7 p.m.
Fifty24SF Gallery
248 Fillmore, SF
(415) 252-0144
Thurs/6, 9 p.m.
626 Divisadero, SF
Wed/5, 7 p.m.
Roxie Cinema
3125 16th St., SF
(415) 863-1087
Sweetness from the Cape Verdean–Portuguese vocalist. Wed/5, 8 p.m., Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. $25. (415) 771-1421.
Bookish by day at last year’s ArthurFest. Howling and riding seated audience members in performance. Thurs/6, 9:30 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $8. (415) 923-0923.
Don’t turn your back on these indie experimentalists. Thurs/6, 9 p.m., Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $8. (415) 861-5016.
Did you eat the Dots — and their glowering psychedelia? Sat/8, 9 p.m., Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. $16–$18. (415) 522-0333.
Members of Secret Chiefs 3 and Estradasphere create likely the first metal unit bearing down on the Japanese instrument. Mon/10, 9 p.m., Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $8. (415) 861-5016.
Let’s talk about (((GRRRLS))) — with exploding viz-art mover–rad dude BARR. Mon/10, 6 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $6. (415) 923-0923.

Body talks


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com
CHEAP EATS The chicken farmer has a high tolerance for surreality …
Woke up on a strange couch with a strange cat on my arm that was not Weirdo the Cat. It was a strange time of morning. I could tell it was morning by how badly I had to go, but it wasn’t the slightest bit light out. Went, came back and made love to the cat, but could not fall asleep.
I thought about things.
Things were pretty fucked up, almost everyone would have to agree — with the possible exception of me. Things are not fucked up, things are not fucked up, I said to myself, like a little engine, and the cat rubbed its dewy black nose against my white one. I knew it was going to be a kind of a day, but still could not sleep.
The instant it got the slightest bit light out, I bounced off the couch, found some coffee in the freezer, rinsed the French press, and made my new favorite cup of coffee. Wish I knew what kind, but the bag was blank.
Not a clock in the house, no phone. The radio on top of the refrigerator told me, eventually, that it was 5:55, the fog would roll off by noon, and traffic was not yet an issue. In a strange bathroom, I dumped one of the strangest loads of my life, a Dairy Queen Dream with a slight, spicy curry goat afterbite, followed shortly by two Solid Gold encores, pause, applause, and a lingering bouquet that could have raised Bukowski from the dead.
The cat seemed interested.
Put on my weirdest pants, with red, orange, and yellow flowers and big pineapples, a not-weird-enough shirt, watered the cat, played bite-my-finger-no-don’t-bite-my-finger with her, packed up my sleeping bag, and went across town to wake up my sister-in-love, Diane.
After breakfast we helped line Market Street for the Pride Parade and waved and went, “Woo!”
Diane became more interested in footwear. I lost her somewhere between the Shoe Pavilion and that other one, and wandered wonderingly until lunch, looking for someone, anyone I knew, and smiling a lot, even though I never found them.
I had already made a lunch date at Little Delhi on Eddy and Mason, just a block off of the parade. There were billions of beautiful, interesting people decorating the streets and sidewalks, but I like to be unfashionably early for things, so I sat inside at the counter and watched some soccer on TV while waiting for my new friend Elliott.
Gotta love an Indian restaurant with a counter.
Elliott showed and we sat in a booth and ate butter chicken ($7.99), saag paneer ($6.99), roti ($1.50), naan ($1), and rice. Everything was great. We talked a lot about a lot of things, including punk rock and bagpipes, but one subject we did not touch on at all was Mr. T Cereal, because that had already been covered in an e-mail. In which I apparently displayed such mastery of the subject of the obscure ex-delicacy that Elliott presented me a trophy, an old Yoko Ono 45 with a plastic lobster glued to it and the typewritten words: “you win.”
I was proud.
As they were clearing away our plates, a cockroach, to everyone’s embarrassment but mine, dashed from under one and paraded across the table. I waved, went “Woo!” and squashed it.
Then, instead of playing baseball, I rejoined the party. Called Earl Butter from a pay phone (50¢) and said, “Butter, get your straight ass down here and be proud with me.”
“Coming,” he said.
And he did, and we found a few things to dance to before the prospect of warmth, pork chops, and rum called us back to the Mission.
On Van Ness, trying to chase down a 49 that wasn’t even close to moving, we walked into an old pal who hadn’t seen me in a while. He’d heard, but had assumed it was a prank. My clownishness haunts me.
Our old pal’s married, having a girl, and he gave us both business cards. “You always seemed so masculine,” he said to me. Amused, like I like it. Not challenging.
“Yeah,” I said. Felt drunk, and left it at that. I’ll write to him, say: You know, no matter how fucked up and tangled things can get around you or just outside of you, one of the easiest things in the world to do is to close your eyes and take another breath, forget every single thing you know except aliveness. Something like that. Or: Baby, your body talks, you listen. SFBG
Daily, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
83 Eddy, SF
(415) 398-3173
Takeout and delivery available
No alcohol
MasterCard, Visa
Wheelchair accessible

Fantasia: range


› paulr@sfbg.com
If fantasies are about transcending limits, then it’s no wonder the la Cornue range is the dream love of so many kitchen fantasists, yours truly among them. Here we have a line of stoves whose cheapest model costs about $17,000, and I do not know what the upper limit is or even if there is an upper limit. Buying a la Cornue is, one supposes, a little bit like buying a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach. The buyer is consulted on all matter of minutiae, including color (a wide palette is offered), and the finished product — assembled by hand by a single worker in France for a certain sort of manufacturing authorship that is increasingly, vanishingly rare in our shabby world of mass production — features a brass plaque emblazoned with the buyer’s (or, to be polite, client’s) name. The burners are also of brass, a corrosion-resistant alloy long used on seagoing vessels, and this is a real advantage to the working cook, who knows that tides of salty fluids are constantly sloshing and slopping across the top of any range. Do brass burners justify the price? Your kitchen-minded Lotto winner might well say yes; check back with me after I’ve won.
Recently a neighbor with inside information told me that a la Cornue could be had for just $10,000 or $12,000. He wasn’t quite sure of the exact figure, but it was surprisingly less than expected. The range in question was a floor model at Cherin’s, the appliance Valhalla at 18th and Valencia. After checking my money clip — $18, in small, unmarked bills — I hurried over to Cherin’s, and I did indeed find a la Cornue range on the floor there. The sales rep, moreover, had news even better than I’d hoped. No, they weren’t giving the stove away, but it cost a mere $8,000, leaving a deficit (for me) of only $7,982 plus tax. There was, alas, a slight catch: The la Cornue in question was a member of the new la CornuFé line — authentic looking and in stock but not made to quite the same standard. Also, no brass plaque with one’s name on it. A worthy but lesser la Cornue, in other words, that owes its existence at least in part to la Cornue’s acquisition, in the autumn of 2004 by Aga, the British stovemaker eager to acquire market share. Is this wise, I wonder, or a fantasy?

Town and country


› paulr@sfbg.com
It is safe to say that when city people talk about going on a jaunt to the country, the country they are talking about going on a jaunt to qualifies as the country mostly by virtue of not being the city. Jaunters are not proposing to leave civilization; city people do not drive to Healdsburg on a tranquil Saturday afternoon in June, braving bridge traffic and 101 traffic, so that they can milk cows or pull weeds at a biodynamic winery. City people go, one suspects, largely in hopes of escaping the city’s fog and wind, of seeing the sun and being able to wear short-sleeve shirts without shivering or looking like foolish tourists.
If these simple graces are what you have in mind, then you will find Healdsburg an accommodating place in early summer. Later the weather will grow torrid, and even the lush, arboreal green of the quaint town square will not be enough to banish the faint fear of heatstroke. But the square will still cast its 19th-century spell, and if you are seated in Bistro Ralph, on the north edge of the square, you might find yourself looking out the plate-glass windows to the shady prospect and imagining that you are beside a cooling pond somewhere in Monet-land, at Giverny itself, perhaps.
Ralph Tingle opened Bistro Ralph in 1992, and I remember peering inside the restaurant on a mid-1990s jaunt with European friends and thinking, How chic, how citified! At that time, Healdsburg still seemed to me to be mostly a dusty, sleepy country town — a more relaxed version of day-trippy Sonoma — and Bistro Ralph an aberration arresting in its sleekness, not a harbinger. But … it turns out to have been a harbinger. Today the town square on a warm weekend afternoon is like Union Square, aswarm with expensively dressed pedestrians and honking, bumper-to-bumper traffic: late model cars furiously getting in one another’s way. The wealth of spanking-new or just-renovated buildings — there is one for Gallo, another for a restaurant called Zin — look as if they belonged on the set of a Spielberg movie.
In this transformed locale, Bistro Ralph is no longer quite so striking. You could walk right by it, in fact, if your thoughts were elsewhere (it’s narrow and midblock, unlike Gallo and Zin, a pair of cornerstones), and once inside, you might find yourself paying less attention to the restaurant’s kinship with Zuni and Mecca than to its resemblance to an old Roman storefront: narrow, deep, and cool under a high tin ceiling. Toward the rear of the dining room stands a longitudinal bar, while at the very rear is a semi-exhibition kitchen — not big, but then the restaurant itself is quite snug, not much larger than the original Delfina.
The wine list consists exclusively of bottlings from the Healdsburg vicinity, and this bias gives our first hint as to what Tingle’s food is going to be like. Although California wines have their virtues, they do tend to be fruity and a little boisterous — not the food-friendliest qualities, unless the food is equally assertive. And Bistro Ralph’s is. The only dish we could find on the shy side, in fact, was a Caesar salad ($8), which lacked anchovies, used a mild aged–jack cheese from Vella instead of the traditional parmesan, and was tossed with a dressing in want of more garlic. On the other hand, the spears of romaine were immaculate, and a pair of croutons smeared with a loud red rouille gave a nice murder-mystery twist.
But let us forgive and forget the salad. The rest of the dishes were notable for their muscularity, beginning with a heap of calamari ($11) dipped in a peppery batter before being flash-fried. The pepper was enough to carry the day, but just to make sure, the kitchen provided a pot of gingery sesame-soy sauce for dipping. A bowl of tortilla soup ($6), thick and glossy like velouté, was the most intensely flavored such soup I’ve ever tasted: a liqueur of roasted corn. There was visual and textural interest here too, from crispy strands of fried tortilla and drizzlings of cilantro oil, but, as with the calamari, the soup could easily have stood on its own.
Liver raises a flag for some of us — calves’ liver especially; chicken livers are manageable. Tingle’s version ($12) presents the latter sautéed in a rich yet nicely acidic bath of balsamic vinegar, caramelized onions, and pancetta, with a block of fried polenta to one side, a golden promontory over a moody brown sea. If you’re inclined toward the reddish orange end of the spectrum, you will like the lamb burger ($9.50), whose spicing appears to include (sweet) paprika. Of at least as much note, though, is the pile of sublimely crisp matchstick fries on the plate.
The dessert list is largely a choco-fest. An exception is the “best” crème brûlée ($7.50), whose custard is flecked with vanilla bean to reinforce the claim of superlativity. As for chocolate: It gets no more chocolatey than the marquise Taillevent ($7.50), two petite slabs — rectangles, not squares — of a substance our server described as “a cross between a mousse and fudge,” adrift in a puddle of crème anglaise. Like any great dessert, this one disappears quickly but leaves you with a memory, a pleasurable tingle. SFBG
Lunch, Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Dinner, Mon.–Sat., 5:30–9 p.m.
109 Plaza, Healdsburg
(707) 433-1380
Full bar
Can get noisy
Wheelchair accessible

Is Updike obsolete?


› publicwriter@techsploitation.com
TECHSPLOITATION In a recent New York Times Book Review screed, the proverbial old-white-male author John Updike offers a reader’s digest version of the argument against online publishing. For those of us who are genuinely puzzled by the animosity directed against efforts to digitize books (like Google Print or the Internet Archive’s Open Library Project), Updike’s short essay is quite instructive.
Updike offers the usual salvos against the “unedited, unattributed” nature of most online writing, but the true source of his wrath is a profound distaste for the idea of reading as a “community activity.” He’s disgusted by the idea of texts being intermingled and passed around “promiscuously” in electronic libraries. More than that, he’s weirded out by the way readers intermingle online. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Updike was never called on to make appearances or have his photo on book jackets, and he still longs for the silences and authorial anonymity of that experience. Ultimately, he predicts that the demand for an intimate back-and-forth between author and audience on the Web will lead us back to “the pre-literate societies, where only the present, live person can make an impression and offer, as it were, value.”
Most writers who, like myself, spend their days jabbering online have a tendency to read essays like Updike’s as the rantings of an obsolete Luddite who can’t tell the difference between a wiki and an RSS feed. It’s easy to make fun of the guy for not knowing a whole lot about the technologies he’s criticizing. But let’s take him seriously for a minute and consider what he’s actually getting at beneath his profound misunderstandings of Google Print and bookshelf mash-ups.
The essay begins with a wistful evocation of the bookstores he visited when young: Mandrake’s in Cambridge, where Updike found New Directions paperbacks; the old Doubleday’s in New York on Fifth Avenue, “with an ascending spiral staircase visible through plate glass.” He worries about losing the understated beauty of books and the quiet dignity of the stores that trade in them. In short, he feels like he’s losing the public spaces devoted to buying and selling books. And yet what he scorns most in his essay is the idea of a “universal library,” democratically accessible to all and long the dream of techie futurists like Wired cofounder Kevin Kelley and digital archivist Rick Prelinger. Why wouldn’t Updike welcome a new, bigger public space devoted to books?
To answer, let me return for a moment to the complaint made by pretty much every blogger who has argued with an old-school print journalist about the legitimacy of online writing. Typically bloggers upbraid these print writers for fearing new technologies in a sentence that goes something like this: “If you simply replace the word ‘blog’ with the word ‘printing press’ in this argument, you see how the argument against blogs is like arguing against the progress of civilization.”
But there is no evidence that anyone protested the invention of the printing press for destroying writing. Sure, there may have been some angry monks here and there who could no longer make a living writing books out by hand. But in general, writers welcomed the invention of the printing press. It led to a flowering of the writing industry and literacy. Meanwhile, governments liked the printing press because it made propaganda a whole lot simpler. It also made writing easier to censor. Unlike handwritten books, which were labor intensive but hard to regulate, every book made with a printing press could be tracked. In England, shortly after the printing press gained ascendancy, all printers had to register with the state for exactly this reason.
The invention of the printing press is nothing like the invention of the Web, which liberates writers from their dependence on publishers regulated by the caprices of states and markets. And so, for now at least, Updike is right that the Internet takes us back to a pre-Gutenberg era. Until we start seeing major censorship crackdowns on Web publishing — rather than the threat of pervasive surveillance, which is certainly chilling — online publishing will never behave like the printing press. The printing press led to the privatization of reading, but the Web leads to its socialization.
So perhaps what Updike is getting at when he bemoans the rise of digital books is really the rise of an uncensored public space. He’s not afraid of technology, but of the public itself. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who loves libraries and old bookstores.

Going topless


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
My girlfriend is really into BDSM. At first I tried and played a convincing (I think) top/dom, but it just wasn’t hot for me, so I looked some stuff up to get inspired. As I was reading/watching, I would really get off on it, but the sex with my girlfriend still wasn’t hot. Then I realized that when I was masturbating to all this, I was fantasizing about subbing. Oops. I am way in love with my girlfriend, but she is a bottom, period. She might switch it around if it meant a lot to me, but I would know that it wasn’t really making her happy. I don’t know what to do. Can I become a top? Can I teach myself to like it? I’m going to do it either way, but I really want to get into it, so please help! I want us to be good in bed together, but two bottoms don’t make a top. Help!
PS: We’re lesbians, if that matters.
Dear Tops:
It sure doesn’t, but thanks for the info!
I was just thinking about this last night when a friend was catching me up on her latest dating adventures. She was lamenting that some potential dates seem to come equipped with a set of kinks perfectly matching her own, and though that sounds good, it is, of course, no use at all. As you have discovered to your frustration, one wants a date with a complementary set of kinks, not a matching one. It’s not an uncommon problem, and its most common manifestation is exactly the one that’s driving you nuts: There are too many bottoms in this world and nowhere near enough tops to keep them satisfied. Why this is (beyond the fact that topping is hard work) I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I bet any number of eager grad students are currently proposing theses on the subject to bored advisors who have read enough similar stuff already.
Here’s my theory: There are people for whom BDSM is a core part of their identity, running as deep as, say, homosexuality or monogamy. Some may always have recognized this element in themselves, even before they had the language to express it (these are the kids who always want to play pirates or whatever game involves somebody getting tied to something or the intentional infliction/receiving of pain, even when the other kids are long since ready to move on). Others don’t realize it until they’re exposed to S-M in some more adult context, but then it just clicks in, key into lock, and they know. Your girlfriend sounds like one of those BDSM lifers, who tend, in my experience, to be pretty set on their preferred role even if they do switch experimentally on occasion (a good idea, if only to find out how painful/exhausting it is to experience/produce any particular sensation).
Then there are the “anything goes” people, who are happy to pick up a flogger or don a dog collar, what the heck, as long as it’s fun. This type of player may not identify as an S-M person per se, but may enjoy a little power exchange on the occasional Friday night, no biggie. You may fall more on this end of the spectrum, but even “what-the-heckers” usually discover some sort of preference, as you have. The perfect 50-50 switch is almost certainly as rare as the perfect 50-50 bisexual.
Plenty of people find something to like in either role, and I think you can develop an appreciation for topping and get some satisfaction out of a job well done (there are resources like The New Topping Book, by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, to help you). But you can enjoy and get good at it without ever really becoming a top the way both of you are currently bottoms. Be careful about taking on a role that isn’t really “you.” Nobody loves a martyr, and you’re still going to want to bottom sometimes. I worry about you starting to resent your girlfriend for getting to have all the fun.
I have a suggestion that might save your relationship or might strike you as all sorts of wrong and make you hate me, but here goes: You guys find a willing top, maybe somewhere in your social circle, maybe online or in a BDSM social organization, and bottom together sometimes. This kind of shared adventure can be hot, hot, hot and very bonding, sort of like getting lost in the woods together and surviving through mutual trust and interreliance — but a lot more fun. I think if you do that sometimes, and play top sometimes, and stick with the vanilla sometimes, you’ll probably be OK, provided you both take care of getting your itches scratched. Love conquers … much.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her archived columns.

No end to Pentagon spying


EDITORIAL The Department of Defense has released the first installment of records related to Pentagon spying on antiwar groups, and while the documents are pretty limited, they suggest that there are no rules against monitoring peaceful political protests.
The records were made public in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Guardian after evidence emerged that military intelligence agents were monitoring protests at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.
The records consist largely of documents and memos, dating back to 1982, that outline the rules and procedures for gathering intelligence on activities that the Pentagon might consider threatening to the US military or its personnel (the documents can be viewed in full at www.sfbg.com). The most relevant material relates to the 2003 Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) program, which was created to report and analyze what the Pentagon calls “nonvalidated possible terrorist-related threat information.” A Dec. 19, 2005 memo from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense states that TALON “is the place where the DoD initially stores ‘dots’ of information which if validated, might later be connected to avert an attack.”
Many of the documents discuss media coverage of the TALON program in 2005 and suggest that some policies around the retention of information might need review.
However, nowhere in the documents is there any clear statement that nonviolent protests — protected by the First Amendment — should be kept out of the database or that any limits should be set on the types of activities that are considered worthy of TALON reporting.
In other words, based on what we’ve seen so far, the Pentagon considers it perfectly appropriate to spy on student protesters and to put that information in a terrorist-threat database.
This ought to be an issue in the fall congressional elections. The Bush administration’s level of “intelligence” collection and scrutiny of private information about Americans who have not broken any laws and do not constitute a threat to anyone is astonishing. The fact that the administration can’t even tell its spies to leave peaceful protesters alone is another sign of the alarming erosion not only of personal privacy but of First Amendment rights. SFBG